Tag Archives: religion

Take and Read

The sheer activity of reading scripture … is itself an act of faith, hope, and love, an act of humility and patience. It is a way of saying that we need to hear a fresh word, a word of grace, perhaps even a word of judgment as well as healing, warning as well as welcome.  To open the Bible is to open a window toward Jerusalem, as Daniel did, no matter where our exile may have taken us.         ~ After You Believe, N.T. Wright

A temptation in the contemplative life is to step away from our theological and Biblical underpinnings and become self absorbed in one’s own experience of God. Prayer, meditation, and contemplation are important practices, but without turning and returning to the Word of God in scripture we may lose our bearings. The witness of those who came before us, which we find recorded in the narratives, histories, wisdom literature, and poetry of the Bible forms us in the mystery of the human experience of the Holy One.

Yes, the Bible is sexist, racist, contradictory, bound by historical events, political realities, tribal animosities, tedious, nonsensical, and  a host of other limitations imp0sed by the motley crew of human beings, who have put their hands on it. The Bible also has the hands of the Holy One on it. It is  shot through with the sublime and transcendent Holy Spirit, who has chosen to associate with our species  (only God knows  why) and expose itself to all our messes, as it calls us and holds us accountable to a Being  greater than we ourselves.

Reading the Bible is like opening up a dusty old trunk in the attic full of family records, dim photos, grade cards, farm records, yellowed newspaper clippings, diaries,  bills of sale, and baby booties. Why did they save this? What was so important about this clipping that someone put it away so carefully? Oh, look, there is great great grandpa by the old homestead. Hey, listen to this entry. It’s about great uncle Harry’s trial for stealing horses, “They led the disheveled man in chains into the courtroom…”

In scripture we learn about our roots, who God is and who God calls us to be. We come to know the nature of God, the limitations and weakness of the creation and what it means to be in right relationship with God, with ourselves and with one another. Scripture is a privileged place of meeting the Holy One and a powerful means of spiritual growth.

The discipline of daily Bible reading and reflection holds our feet to the fire. We are unable to squirm away from confronting difficult texts, hard sayings, and truths we may not want to hear. Being moored to scripture keeps us from floating off into philosophical abstraction and metaphysical flights of fancy, by anchoring us to the specific ground of God’s revelation in time and space in particular communities and individuals. Likewise reading scripture encourages us to pay attention to God’s revelation in the concrete messy details of our own lives.

Here is a resource for daily Bible Study I highly recommend.

Disciplines – A Book of Daily Devotions 2013.  Find light for your daily walk with God through The Upper Room Disciplines. In this best-selling devotional book, 53 writers from diverse Christian backgrounds and locales help you explore the Bible’s message for your life. 

New in 2013: Each week opens with a Scripture Overview, followed by four questions or suggestions for reflection for personal or small-group use. Widely available online and at your local bookstore in Kindle and paperback, Disciplines 2013 makes a thoughtful gift for Sunday school teachers, pastors, or anyone who wants to mine the rich treasures of scripture.  

I am honored to again be invited to contribute a week of reflections on the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. But don’t buy the book just to read my thoughts. You will discover fifty three other writers, waiting to guide you into the transforming encounter with the Word of God. ~ Loretta F. Ross Take and Read
Here is a little story about the power of reading the Bible.

I  was . . . .weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighboring house, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take and read; take and read.” 

Immediately my countenance was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from Heaven to open the book, and to read the first chapter I should light upon.

For I had heard of Antony, that, accidentally coming in whilst the gospel was being read, he received the admonition as if what was read were addressed to him, “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.” And by such oracle was he forthwith converted unto Thee.

So quickly I returned to the place where . . . . I had put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell, — “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”

No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended, — by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart, — all the gloom of doubt vanished away.      ~ St. Augustine, Confessions

Will the Faith of a 13 Year Old Sustain Us?

Are you trying to cope in a grown up world with the faith of a thirteen year old? James Fowler and other scholars of faith and personality development have indicated for years that a majority of Christians possess the spiritual maturity of a thirteen year old. A recent survey by the Pew Forum has found that atheists know more about  major religions than Protestants and Roman Catholics, many of whom do not know the basics tenets of their own faiths.

How well does the faith of a thirteen year old hold up in a grown up world?

Not very well according to a recent survey conducted by the Barna Institute. The survey revealed that though many people are discussing and debating religious beliefs and practices, all the talk has resulted in very little change in people’s faith. Just 7% of those surveyed could cite any change that their faith has made in their lives in the past five years.

On the one hand about one-third of adults who experienced any change at all mentioned an increase in some aspect of their faith commitment. Fourteen percent said they had stepped up their commitment to the Christian faith, in general; 12% cited an increase in their religious activity; and 9% indicated their commitment to God had grown.

On the other hand 16% said they had moved away from Christianity; 11% noted that their feelings about or perceptions toward churches had deteriorated; and 8% admitted to decreasing their religious activity. Another 8% claimed to have changed churches or denominations during the past five years. Among those whose appreciation of or respect for churches declined, a majority specified the sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic church as the dominant factor in their change of heart . Barna Research

Writers in the field of human personality and faith development have observed for some time that most people’s understanding of faith and beliefs are established by age thirteen and do not much change over their life.  If my faith and the faith of most of the people around me is that of a thirteen year old, it seems a natural evolution to drop out in my twenties. On the other hand, if I choose to stay, what sort of impact on the world does a church with the faith maturity of thirteen olds make? Not much, it would seem, if the steep declines in church membership, respect for religious leaders, and positive cultural regard are any measure.

Though Jesus challenged his disciples to have faith like a child, he also challenged them to grow beyond childish ways by bringing their faith to bear on the complex religious and social issues of his time. He challenged his followers with paradox and ambiguity. He taught that there was something life-giving in death itself. In addition he called for self-sacrifice beyond the cognitive ability of thirteen year olds.

I know a clergy person, who told me she had a program on her computer that checked the style and word choice of her sermons for grade level. She aimed to write sermons easily understood by a third grader. That explains a lot to me. If all we give people in our churches is third grade faith and understanding, it is a wonder they stay around through high school, let alone the rest of their lives.

The Christianity of the first century was more than palliative care or an agenda for social change. Mature faith, tried and refined in the fire of personal and communal life, results in deep understanding and compassion for the human condition and deep reverence for all of life.

I have heard the faith taught by some churches called “a mile wide and an inch deep.” A sound bite world that worships immediacy has little patience for anything other than Christianity Lite. Hence the media depiction of faith traditions is often distorted, diluted, sensationalized snippets of a tradition only truly known and appreciated through years of living and allowing oneself to be changed by its teachings.

G.K. Chesterton once observed that, “It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, it is that it has never been tried.” Our perilous time of mounting crises, crumbling institutions, and polarization require of us a faith much deeper, broader, and more nuanced than that of most thirteen year olds.

I do see many positive signs— a young woman named Gina who is seeking to have her life radically changed by God as she lives out of a back pack, traveling the world helping the poor; the family who travels to third world countries offering love and medical care; the young college graduate who went to Haiti to help build an orphanage and hauled drinking water for the workers each day. Other people submit to the transforming power of the St.Ignatius thirty-day retreat, or sit down with someone regularly to examine their spiritual life and the call of God. Many people are taking responsibility for developing their faith in creative ways, and often these occur outside traditional church settings.

Spiritual maturity helps us to answer such questions as – How do we help ourselves live with paradox and ambiguity? How do we increase our tolerance for the stranger and the alien? How do we meet suffering and deprivation in ways, which carry us beyond sullen entitlement, bitterness, and retaliation? How do we integrate increasingly complex realities with faith and generosity?

As a thirteen year old I believed the promises of scripture:  that God is good and wants goodness for us. I believed that God also has expectations for us to live with reverence, forgiveness, compassion, and self-giving love.

As a knocked down, punched out, disillusioned adult I also believed that suffering, evil, sin, loss, and disappointment are real. For me the cross, no less a scandal and folly today than 2000 years ago, stands between the polarities of the goodness of God and the harsh realities of life in this world. Strung between childlike trust and adult confrontation with sin and evil is a tightrope called faith. In the center of that tightrope we find the cross. No one may pass by without a crucifixion. Mature spirituality has learned to walk that narrow wire with precision and grace.

Despite our advances in technology, health care, science, industry, and commerce, we remain in some respects spiritual children. I believe among the most important skill called for in our time is not our intellectual expertise, but rather, mature faith manifested in how we respond to deprivation and loss, how we respond to our own lust and greed, and how we discover the inner resources of wisdom, character, and love that make us worthy to be entrusted with the great power that is ours as a community and individuals.

I am writing this blog in the public library of a small town in Iowa. A group of middle school kids sat down at the table near by. They are discussing how old they are and who is mature and who is not. They are working on a school assignment, but so far have not opened their books. They just took a break and asked me to watch their notebooks. The kids are funny, exasperating, and when they suddenly apologized to me for making too much noise, I fell in love with them. As endearing as I find them, I would hate to bank the future of Christianity on the faith on these children, or have to count on their leadership and wisdom to lead us in these tumultuous times.

As a matter of fact, they make me want to be the very best grown up I can possibly be for them.

I know a large number of grown ups in the faith – including you, my dears. Many are members of churches, quite a few are not. Some have nothing good to say about Christianity. But all are bringing, deep, resonant, intelligent faith to bear on the challenges and sorrows of this world. Thank you all so very much!

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